Almost 5 years ago, Estelle & Magan met at a wedding — where M was the photographer and E was a bridesmaid for her best friend's big day. We talked about books for under five minutes, and a friendship was born.
Since then, we’ve shared our love of books, Zac Efron, and shopping on this blog, changed jobs, had babies, moved, visited DC and Disney World together, and constantly stayed connected -- despite the miles between us. RBR has been the our own version of a coffee date, our way to mark the time before we can hang out and gab in person again. Thanks for spending time with us. xoxo
I’ve been trying to write about my relationship with books in 2016 for the past week. I’ve scrolled through my list of top 10 books of the year — a list that has steadily remained at seven reads for the past few months — and tried to add others but fell short. I looked through notes I scribbled down in Goodreads when I was particularly jazzed about a read, and grew upset with myself for not being more detailed.
The question is: how do you measure your reading life after recording your reading life pretty routinely for almost five years and then stopping cold turkey?
The answer is: I’m not entirely sure.
Here are a few things I could say: I read Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King because my boss at one of my side hustles sent me a galley. It utterly changed my reading life, and I immediately ordered a copy to send to my sister. I loved it so much that I was too shy to go up to Jeff when he traveled to New York City for one of my favorite annual events of all time: NYC Teen Authors Festival (a festival I never would have started attending if it wasn’t for this blog). I went on a job interview for a job I would eventually get after a weekend of being snowed in and talked up Courtney Summer’s All the Rage and Julie Buxbaum’s Tell Me Three Things. Both so wonderful for such different reasons. Later that summer, during Independent Bookstore Day, I convinced one of my oldest friends to buy a copy. On a long bus ride to the beach, Some Kind of Happiness by Claire LeGrand kept me company. It’s the perfect middle grade mix — magic mixed with realism, love mixed with confusion, and family paired with self-discovery. This was another doggy earred galley I left on my sister’s bed during a visit home. I picked up The First Time She Drowned because Jeff Zentner plugged it, was instantly taken by the beauty and pain of the book, and passed it along to a friend a few months later when her mom passed. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy read for her, but I also knew she had a lot of the strength the main character possessed and this was the best way I could tell her. And then there was a recommendation from the dependable Emma and the discovery of a brand new author: Leah Konen. The warm summer afternoon I gobbled up One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid and immediately passed it to my close friend from college. (It was a year of passing it on.) And the incredible second book by Juliana Romano, The Summer in the Invisible City, that had my hand yearning to write, pick up my own story, and challenge myself to write just as well. (Impossible but still. I was inspired and continued to be. You’ll be shocked to know I bought my sister a copy of this for Christmas. Note to self: has she read any of these yet?)
This is the first year in five years where I bought less than 12 book for myself in a year. This does not mean I didn’t buy a lot of books for others because I did. (Like the incredible and addicting middle grade from Natasha Friend: Where You’ll Find Me.) I read so many books from my own library, from stacks that line my apartment walls, and donated over 75 of them in one fashion or another. (There is one happy reader in my apartment building.) I stopped — we stopped — writing here for so many reasons but one of mine was to simplify. I thought if I took a break from here, I would be able to concentrate on other projects. More private ones. And I did. And I didn’t. And I rediscovered what it means to love a book and share it with your friends who understand you and not rush and not feel any pressure. I took out over 75 books from my library this year, I paid probably 50 dollars in fines, but I know I shopped thoughtfully this year. I reminded myself countlessly that there are a million ways to support authors, even if you aren’t buying a book as soon as it comes out. Hey, I even introduced my cube neighbor to Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I Loved Before and delighted in our conversations about if she was Team Peter or Team Josh. It was organic, and so fun! (Another note: just because a platform pauses/closes, doesn’t mean a voice stops recommending and encouraging people to buy your books.)
2016 was not my best reading year. I put a lot of books down. I read 100 pages, and decided if I really didn’t want to pick a book up at night, what was it doing my nightstand? Like everything else that is a hobby, it’s okay to make those decisions. It’s okay to know your limits and want to FIND JOY. (I did finally read On the Island and I’m kicking myself because people have been singing its praises forever. Oh, and then Little Women — I tackled my goal of 26 years by actually finishing it.) My priorities may have shifted to personal projects and fitness and watching all seven season of Gilmore Girls, but I have missed this space. I know I’m lucky because I’ve been able to channel my love for this space and this community at work, and have a great time doing it. But I miss brainstorming and laughing with my friend over books; I miss having a project to gap our distance. For almost a year now, I’ve struggled with (and maybe this is what the age of digital is all about) who I am as a blogger and who I am as an actual publicist. (One of my proudest/scariest moments I had this year was speaking on a panel about blogging and my professional life at the wonderful BlogBound.) The support and incredible relationships I made because of this blog mean so much to me. I respect what you do because I’ve done it too. I know it’s a labor of love, and I know how much authors and the books we love need the genuine passion you express in whatever way you wish. This blog and all of the experiences connected to it have made me better at my job, it’s made me even more of a creative thinker, and it’s made me love the art of collaboration so much more than I ever have.
It’s a new year, and it feels right to be back here with Magan. We’re celebrating six years of friendship at the end of January, and I feel luckier than ever — to be surrounded by books, fierce and imaginative people, and the freedom to sit here and write this to you. I’m ready to learn more about others and myself too.
Here’s to 2017 — to reunions, rediscovery, and curiosity.
In my casual relationship during the work week with Twitter, I saw a few people mention reading primarily women authors in the new year. It soon led me to this post on Book Riot. Deciding to do something like this wouldn’t be such a change in pace for me — I find myself reading women almost exclusively for no reason except well those tend to be the books I pick up. Proof: 136 out of 152 book I read last year were by ladies. Even so, I realized I wanted to be more aware of this choice when it came to my reading and unofficially officially challenge myself to read more ladies across the genres — especially after last year (ha, two days ago!) brought books like Happiness for Beginners, Girl in the Mirror, and Maybe in Another Life into my universe when I needed the extra oomph to be my own advocate!
To be helpful for others who may want to embark on this women’s only challenge, I thought I would lend a few suggestions from my treasure trove of favorites and then offer up a few titles that are on my priority list for 2016. As always, here’s hoping you discover something new and fabulous!
Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry: An oldie, but goodie. Anastasia is a writer and a dreamer, and I love how this old school book shows how much middle grade writing has changed over the years.
Jessica Darling’s IT List series by Megan McCafferty: Family, friends, and popularity come into play in the prequel to the beloved (at least to me) Jessica Darling series.
Finding Someplaceby Denise Lewis Patrick: A young girl is caught in the middle of Hurricane Katrina and deals with the effects while discovering the true meaning of home.
Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu: Corey Ann never speaks down to her readers and writes with honesty about beauty, sisters, and mysteries of love in this NYC summer story. (Runner up: Life By Committee.)
Vivian Apple series by Katie Coyle: It’s the end of the world as Vivian and Harp know it… in this smart series filled with fierce friendship, family challenges, and a crazy religion sweeping the country, Coyle writes an engaging and chilling 2-book series.
Pointeby Brandy Colbert: Theo’s oldest friend returns four years after he’s been kidnapped, and the effects of their estrangement, her future in dance, and past memories bombard her in heartbreaking, and difficult ways.
Kissing Ted Callahan Amy Spalding: One of the rare YA books that comes jam-packed with laughs as a main character navigates a messy love life, kisses a bunch of boys, and is semi-competing with her over the top best friend in finding a relationship. (Runner up: The Reece Malcolm Project.)
What You Left Behind by Jessi Verdi: A young dad (in his senior year of high school) left to piece together his deceased girlfriend’s secrets through her diary.
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan: A main character who is constantly feeling misunderstood by her peers (she’s Persian not Latina!) and dealing with feelings for the new girl in school.
Young Widows Club by Alexandra Coutts: A great look at an unconventional love story, its ending, and what happens after… before the main character has even graduated high school.
Hundred Oaks series by Miranda Kenneally: Looking for strong, nuanced female main characters? This series is sure to satisfy as the characters deal with money, the future, death, religion, friendships, and love of all kinds in a small town. A plus: every book feels like a family reunion (and they can be read out of order).
Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Dollar: A main character reunited with the father and family her mother turned her against complete with a cast of a fabulous Greek family, a backdrop near the sea, and sexy love connection. All while dealing with a past that doesn’t want to be buried. (Runner up: The Devil You Know).
The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank: A black sheep’s “quest for her identity” through 25 years of her life.
Night Blindness by Susan Strecker: Jensen is forced to go home again when her dad is diagnosed with a brain tumor. She’s also reunited with her ex, her own horrible secret, and the realization that she might not be quite so happy with many factors in her life.
The Mourning Hours by Paula Treick DeBoard: Contemporary fiction with a flashback pinpointing when Kirsten’s brother s accused of murder and her family’s future is forever changed.
Steal the North by Heather Bergstrom: The Pacific Northwest is the backdrop in this novel about family secrets, religion, and young love.
The One That Got Away by Bethany Chase: For those who love binge watching HGTV, Austin, Texas, and second chance love stories.
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume: A journey through the years of two unlikely childhood best friends.
Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett (a memoir): A tale of friendship between two college friends and their journeys into writing.
What Remains by Carole Radziwill (a memoir): Before she was a housewife of NYC, Carole fell in love and married a prince, and was best friends with JFK Jr’s wife. This book tells the story of her husband’s cancer and losing her best friends in a plane crash. (Tissues in hand, people!)
Why Can’t I Be You by Allie Larkin (Fiction, Plume, 2013 ): “A portrait of friendship and identity”.
The Disenchantments by Nina LeCour (YA, Dutton,2012): A road trip, a band, and some unrequited love.
Negroland by Margo Jefferson (Memoir, Pantheon, 2015): Full disclosure that Margo Jefferson is one of my favorite college professors but I’m so looking forward to diving into her latest book about growing up in Chicago amongst “the colored elite” — as she calls it.
Big Magic: Creative Life Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (Non-fiction, Riverhead Books, 2015): I’ve been enjoying the Big Magic podcast, and I’m looking forward to the book that started it all to give me a little push in a creative direction.
Whew! I’m ready to get started. I’d love to hear your books by awesome ladies recs (especially non-fic since I’m lacking in that department)!
You know when you have a trilogy and the second movie (unfortunately) feels like it exists just to get to the final installment? That’s a little bit of what this year has felt like. Some progress, a few steps back, major happy moments, and some really disappointing ones. I think 2015 may have existed just to push me toward the next year, so with that understanding, fingers crossed for 2016 to be a bit more… steady and wonderful.
As always, books have continued to be my anchor when I needed to escape the real world and my gosh, there were so many fantastic ones this year. There were definitely some standouts — and not in a top 10 of the year kind of way — but more of a “oh my god this book is saving me and I didn’t even know I needed to be saved kind of way”. So that’s what this post is about — how powerful and emotional and impactful some titles have been for me this year. I hope it gets you thinking the books in your life that made you feel similarly this year.
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center seems like the logical place to start. The main character needs to escape the blah realities of her current situation and embarks on something totally out of her comfort zone — which means she sucks at it for awhile but learns about her so much along the way. Halfway through the year, I started a new workout and nutrition regime, and surprisingly, fell in love with yoga. It’s not the same as hiking in the great outdoors for a number of days on end, but it definitely felt like it. Feeling strong, seeing my body change, and realizing I had discovered a habit that actually calmed me? Priceless.
In keeping with the highs of the year, both Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer and Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid made me think of the steady females in my life (the golden old ones, and the surprising new ones) who lend me support and make me better. (I shine if you shine!) They also reminded me how the tiniest decisions can have the greatest impact on the directions of our lives and there’s no life roadmap we have to follow step by step; it takes time to find our ways, it takes mistakes to get us where we are going and we are that much better for our blunders.
Speaking of blunders, I spent way too much time this year asking myself what I did wrong for certain situations to turn out like they did. Even when I tried to forget or let it go, they popped up again and again, and while these events have contributed to the hurt and insecurity that has plagued me more than I care to admit, I do wonder if these moments have led me to realize that 1] friendships work when a person can switch off between being the supporter and the supportee (Tonight the Streets are Ours by Leila Sales is the first YA novel where I related more to the mom than the young main character) 2] forgiveness is the key to a long, nuanced friendship (Molly and Imogene in99 Days by Katie Cotugno are on point, as are Willowdean and Ellen in Dumplin’) 3] there’s truth to the saying that some are only meant to be in your life for a sliver of time (First There Was Forever by Juliana Romano), and this truth is something you have to train yourself to believe time and time again, and 4] brand new friendships can be scary but so worth it (Feeling Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty).
In a steady string of books about sisters this year, and in the same year, that my mom lost her sister, these tales (This Raging Light by Estelle Laure; Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt; Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu) comforted me because they nailed the bond between two people who are brought up to love one another but also be separate people with their own story. Family is this funny thing; we all know that. Things can go from great to prickly in a matter of minutes; suddenly you are walking on eggshells when all you want to do is laugh and just relax together up against a confusing and unpredictable outside world. You know each other so well; it’s so easy to hurt each other too. Your relationship is this constant battle of finding balance in pleasing the other without doing exactly what the other wants you to do. Does that make sense? I’m still figuring it out myself…
And lastly to three books that reminded me of how emotional reading can be… I finished Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith while waiting out a delayed flight back home from visiting my dear friend, Magan. This book made me weep because I recognized the control the main character wanted in regarded to her future. Would she be friends with the same people once she left for college? Would she love the same boy? I may be far away from that time in my life, but the series of greetings and so longs comes just as steadily, and often, unplanned these days. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin hits on final moments too — the kind you never want to revisit but are forced to — even if you work so hard to prolong the inevitable. But there is hope. And Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead — a book that felt as familiar as cocoa on a warm winter’s night and a movie night with your best gal pals — reminds us that the sad times and the uncomfy-ness of change can also uncover new bonds, new moments to laugh about, and new sides of ourselves yet to unveiled. Siblings have your back, your friendships evolve but remain constant, and we are all on this Earth to do something special, be special to somebody.
A heartfelt thanks to the above authors who challenged my emotions, made me feel like I had someone in my corner, and improved my ability to be not only a compassionate reader but a more compassionate person.
I’ve read four out of the five of the Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins, and over the course of two years, I’ve always been curious about Connor O’Rourke. He was wise-talking, totally mysterious, and always teasing his twin sister, Colleen. She was even stumped by him. So I’ve been really excited to get Connor’s story, and Higgins did not disappoint with Anything For You (out today!). The highlight of this book was the timeline. We start with the present, a denied proposal, and then journey back to the very, very beginning of the “friendship” between Connor and Jess.
Readers can always depend on Higgins to create multi-layered character backstories and her development of Jess was on point. Right away, Jess reminded me of Laura Linney’s character in Love Actually; she has a disabled younger brother and is mainly responsible for him. Unlike Laura Linney’s, Jess’ parents are alcoholics and her childhood is filled with working more than one job, sacrificing her own school events and college to look out for her brother, and keeping them both safe from their parents and their unpredictable whims. The bright light in her life is always her brother, Davey, and then in an unexpected reunion: Connor.
Kind of. Jess understandably has trust issues. Davey is her number 1 priority, and even though she knows Connor is different than any of the other guys she has spent time with — that’s my one qualm about this book: readers are constantly and unnecessarily reminded of Jess and her promiscuity — the two can’t seem to make a full-fledged relationship work.
In romance novels, we know half the fun is getting to the happily ever after and I really enjoyed getting to know these two characters through their own personal challenges and the series of events that kept bringing them back to one another. Plus there was something so sweet about learning how a series landmark — O’Rourke’s — was born. Finding out these little details definitely made the Blue Heron series come full circle. Anything for You was the perfect respite after a busy few days, full of loyal supporting characters, forgiveness, acceptance, and a couple who deserved the chance to make each other happy.
Rediscovering old books is by far one of my favorite things EVER, and I’ve been so glad to do so this year with #SoRatherBeYoung. At the same time, I’ve loved learning more about my friend, Hannah, and what books made her a reader when she was an adorable kid. This round of picks have been interesting. I loved all of Louis Sachar’s books when I was a bookworm in elementary school and I was praying, praying that this title would stand the test of time. On the other hand, Hannah’s pick for me was something I had never, ever heard of so it was nice to read a new, old book. (Hey, does this count as a classic?)
More Than You Know: The author had a degree in Economics and started the Wayside School series after graduation. How interesting is that?!
Memories Are Made of This: I haven’t picked up this series since elementary school but it’s funny how muscle memory works. I started to remember little projects we did with each silly chapter of this book. This title continues to be fun, and I can only hope kids are still reading it in school.
Second Time Around: I’m basically going to repeat myself here. This book can be downright ridiculous but I can also see how the book teaches about language, misunderstanding, and how it’s so important not to take yourself seriously all the time. A fun ride.
You Can Take My Word for It, Baby: Like I said above, I hope kids, parents, teachers, and cool babysitters are still reading this book. It’s just a blast. (Plus there is a Santa chapter, and I just realized this is the grown-up version of Miss Nelson is Missing — am I right?)
Hannah’s pick for me: The Borrowers by Mary Norton | First published in 1952
Do You Know Why? “I wish I had an exciting reason for choosing The Borrowers for Estelle, but I don’t! When I asked her what she was in the mood for, she mentioned wanting something fun. A lot of what I read as a kid was on the more serious side (maybe because it was a ton of historical fiction), so this book was one of the first that came to mind! I remember almost nothing about the plot, but I know I was obsessed with the idea of tiny people secretly living in my home.” — Hannah
Can’t You Just See Yourself: I love that this was one of those picks that I had never, ever heard of. I know Hannah still hasn’t read this one in awhile, so I’m curious for her to revisit it soon too. When she first told me about it, I thought the borrowers were mice, not humans!
I Give You My Word: This is a story that would benefit from beautiful illustrations. If you are able to find that version, I could see myself reading it with younger kids. I do think I’d prefer to read Stuart Little or something similar first though.
Before the Music Ends: I wonder if I had some nostalgic pull toward this one I’d feel differently. The ending felt a little confusing (which made me feel so silly) and again, I don’t think the version I borrowed from the library gave me the best experience. It’s a cute story, but wasn’t a total winner for me.
Thanks for checking out #SoRatherBeYoung today! I hope when you are hanging around
during the holidays and awaiting a new year, you’ll be inspired to pick up your old standbys
from “the good old days”.
Happy almost Christmas! (And almost 2016 — if you can believe it!)
And be sure to stop by Hannah’s to hear her talk about my reading assignment for her. (ONE OF MY FAVORITES).
I’m typing this by the light of my Christmas tree, while listening to the Peanut gang serenade me and I still can’t believe we’ve already reached the final post for the Dive Into Diversity challenge. This will officially be the first and last challenge I host on Rather Be Reading blog, and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner-in-crime during the whole process. It was so nice to be both laid-back and creative in everything we were writing. If you took part in this challenge in any capacity or read through these posts, I hope you’ve become a little bit more aware of the characters you are reading about and who has been writing them. Maybe you just added a brand new book to your reading list. Either way, it’s been a pleasure to share these posts with you.
For the final hoorah, Rebecca and I interviewed each other! Here are her awesome answers to my burning questions…
Estelle: Let’s start from the beginning. You were nice enough to approach us about co-hosting the challenge with you. Why was hosting this important to you? What’s been the best part?
Rebecca: I was very inspired by the kickstarter for We Need Diverse Books. I loved what the movement was about and what they wanted to achieve. To be honest, diversity in books wasn’t something I’d thought about much before, but after that, I wanted more of it and I wanted to see change. It wasn’t long after I got the idea to hold the challenge and the rest is history. Hosting a challenge hasn’t been the easiest, but it’s been rewarding. I think the best part of it has been learning, along with everyone else. Becoming more aware and listening and having people take it all in with you.
Estelle: I’m going to copy your second question to me! What was your favorite post you put together for this project?
Rebecca: Wow – looking back, there are quite a few I’m proud of. Taking the Good With the Bad because I put so much effort and love into writing it. It was my first ever post for the challenge and I wanted to get it right.
Estelle: Personally, I felt a lot of frustration with this challenge sometimes because I wondered what we were really doing to reach people outside of the super blogger sphere. Do you agree? What do you think is the best way for the general reader to become aware of the campaign?
Rebecca: I totally get your frustration. I also feel this way about OzYA and trying to reach people outside of the blogging community. Super tricky. I think the best way to reach the general reader is bookshops and libraries. Local bookish places who have the ability and means to hold events, create displays and start conversations. We might not have reached the masses, but I believe we created diverse conversations in the book community and I’m happy with that.
Estelle: Who are some bloggers, authors, or websites that you go-to for great articles on diversity and where the future of publishing should go?
Rebecca: There are some great people on Twitter talking about diversity: Malinda Lo (@malindalo) and Dahlia Adler (@MissDahlElama) are two authors of many I see talking a lot about diversity in my feed frequently. Other sites to follow for diverse recs, reviews and great articles:
GayYA.org (They also host a monthly book club with Twitter chats, which is fun.)
TheBookmarkPlace.com (These guys focus on reviewing diverse books, plus I love their rating system.)
Estelle: What’s your biggest takeaway from the challenge and the diversity campaign in 2015?
Rebecca: It was a pretty laid-back challenge, but it was more work and stress that I initially thought it would be. But it’s not to say I didn’t enjoy hosting it. Diversity is now a common, talkative subject in the book community and there’s definitely been change since a year ago. But there’s still a way to go in terms of publishing and the future of the book industry. Like I said above, there’s talk and change happening in the book/publishing community, but I feel like it hasn’t yet reached the outer community, which I feel will really help things along. So here’s hoping the message continue to spread and we start to see more change the coming year.
As for how the challenge affected me as a reader, it’s impacted my reading over the year with half of what I read a diverse title. But the fact I’m most happy and pleased about and generally makes me smile wide is the fact that my favourite books of the year are all diverse. Not because they’re diverse, but because they are all freaking amazing books in their own right. Heartfelt, special, thoughtful, impacting. I talked about my favourites last week, which you can check out here.
Don’t forget to check out my chat with Rebecca @ Reading Wishes. Another big thanks to her for asking Magan and I to join her reading challenge party, and all of those who contributed to posts or wrote your own. xoxo
Here’s to a fabulous end of the year, and a new one filled with compassion, new reading adventures, and more representation for all.